Lamont and Dude Discuss Romance

“Here’s a key. I had the locks changed. I broke up with Trina.”


“She’s off her nut. She even stalked me to the Tarpits.”

“That’s no good, Dude. You have strange luck with the females of the various species.”

“It just never makes sense, does it, Lamont.”

“Sure it does. It just as humans we think about it too much and we have expectations. It’s all because it takes so long for a human to reach adulthood. Remember when you were a salmon?”

“Lamont, you ate me during my very first spawn. I have no real experience with Salmon love.”

“Yeah. Sorry. Think of the times you were a single cell animal.”

“The word ‘think’ and the phrase ‘single cell animal’ are mutually exclusive, Lamont.”

“Good point. OK, when you were a — why do we always come back to this? I’m sure you were an ungulate once upon a time. Are you sure you don’t remember anything about it?”

“No, sorry Lamont.”

“OK, when you were a Smilodon. What was love like in your Smilodon life?”

“Well, it had its ups and downs.”

“Ha ha.”

“I’d usually find the scent markings of one or two randy males around the periphery of my territory…”

“You were a FEMALE Smilodon?”

“Yeah, so? Smilodon is as Smilodon does. Gender is just a frill in the exciting world of kill or be killed.”

“Nice rhyme.”

“Lots of Dr. Seuss in my current world.”


“Anyway, I’d get these peculiar feelings and rub against stuff and a male would appear. We’d go at it hot and heavy — I had no choice, really, it was an invisible itch. Then several months later a cub or two would show up.”

“Where was the male then? Did he hang around to help with the kids?”

“Smilodons had cubs, not kids. Kids come from goats and WHAT a delicacy they were.”

“Splitting hairs, Dude. You know what I mean.”

“Hares were good, too.”

“Har-dee har har. What happened with the progeny?”

“I loved them, fed them, cleaned them, trained them. Kept them away from their father who’d have eaten them. When they were older, they took off and I went back to chasing mastodons such as yourself into the tarpits.”

“That’s my point. So you and — what’s her name?”


“Right. So you and Trina did the deed, had some laughs, quaffed some brew and you moved on. What else WOULD you do?”

“She said I was afraid of commitment.”

“That’s not true. I’ve known you for thousands of years. I think you just wanted a superficial fling a la Smilodon Love.”

“Maybe. I don’t know what I want, but yeah, it was just no fun any more.”

“There you are. That explains the little note I saw taped to the Lifeguard Stand, ‘For a good time, call Dude’.”

“You wrote that.”

“How’s it worked out so far?”

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them an unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Training for the Birkebeiner??

Yesterday I was so inspired by the Birkebeiner Nordic Ski race that I was ready to sign up, but a little research showed me three things that dampened my enthusiasm. In order, first, it’s a crowd of people trying to ski. I’d hate that. Second, sleeping accommodations are renting a mattress and showing up at a dorm with your sleeping bag. I’d hate that. When I say I sleep alone, it includes a room. Third, it would be expensive BUT all other things being cool, I’d willingly go into debt (further).

“But,” I thought, “I can still train for it.” Strangely, that sounds fun, so I looked into it. There’s a whole schedule for preparing for the Birkebeiner. It’s nothing I’m not already doing, only more of it and pushing harder. So, nothing I can’t do.

Do you really want to READ this???

So, today (in my personal adaptation of this plan, since I cannot jog) was a hike day. I grabbed Bear (not really) and we headed out to the golf course. It was cold and sunny with BIG snow storms in the offing. There was an old guy making his way slowly around the 1 mile ski loop.

“How is it?” I asked him
“Not great. I’d like to go up to Rock Creek, but I’d be all alone if I broke my leg or something. Cell service isn’t great. Not fair to my wife.” (It’s amazing how EVERY man I meet lets me know, ASAP, that he’s married. I kind of hate that because I don’t WANT one of my own, but whatever…)
“Yeah, me too. I don’t want to go up there by myself, either. Have fun!”

He shuffled off. Bear and I walked a mile and a half before returning back to the golf course. An elderly couple was shuffling along the tracks. The woman stopped to visit (this is a small town and that custom is charming) and we exchanged stories of our joint replacements and she said they’d gone up to South Fork but it was so crowded it was no fun. I thought of my short-lived Birkebeiner dreams and nodded. We exchanged names and personal history. Most people ask my name thinking they should know me. When they don’t, it’s a little bewildering for them. I now have nicely memorized litany to legitimize my living in this insular town that I love so much.

Bear and I headed toward home. Bear only dragged me into a snow drift once. I’m SO good at getting up now it’s impressive.

We were half a block up a muddy alley from home, and the two little kids who’ve moved into the neighborhood came running to their fence to see Bear but mostly to visit.

“What are you doing today?” asked the little boy. (He’s 5. Visiting skills develop early here.)
“I just took Bear for a long walk on the golf course so she could play in the snow.”
“THAT golf course?” he pointed across the street.
I got another exhibition of his precocity in the art of visiting. “We might try that sometime.”
“Have you been to the park? It’s more fun.”
“We’ve been there,” said his sister.
“Did you have fun?” I asked.
“Yes!” they both said. Then their dad came out to give them a chore and Bear and I came home.

Once home, I rode the bike to nowhere four miles in 15 minutes. It was part of my training for the Birkebeiner to go fast and then faster for a period of time. As close to running as I can get.

I track everything on I started doing that just to know the distances I covered when I couldn’t walk well, but now I’m mildly into it. I even signed up for the annual challenge and I’ve achieved a pretty high ranking in relation to other women who signed up which just shows that it’s true that 99% of success is just showing up. I’m the little white figure on the graph of runners. The challenge doesn’t include the Bike to Nowhere. It’s no big deal, but I’m kind of proud, even though it just means a lot of other peoples’ New Years Resolutions bit the dust.

I Could go ON and ON and ON but…

Most of them are just rocks and dirt that people discovered ages ago they could use to paint with. Cave paintings like this one from Argentina have been found wherever there is ochre clay clinging to the rocks, usually near limestone caves. Limestone + water + pigment = fresco. To get these amazing paintings, all they had to do was pulverize some ochre, put it in a hollow reed, wet the wall of the cave, put a hand up and blow through the reed.

Cueva de los Manos, Argentina. Red, brown and white ochre.

Ochre is common throughout the world. I saw brilliant green and gold ochre outside Verona (Verona green ❤ ). I’ve had the chance a few times to go to the Paint Mines not far from Colorado Springs. It’s a spot where Indians dug for face paint, but the white clay there is also good for pottery.

Artists still use these ancient pigments. We draw and even paint with charcoal and lamp black. All of our “earth colors” are really earth colors.

Under the boot and on the toe you can see the color of the pink rock from the Paint Mines that’s in the featured photo.

Other colors were harder to come up with long ago. Red was extremely challenging to produce, and some shades were deadly poisonous. A beautiful non-toxic red — carmine — could be derived from the Cochineal beetle which is found in South America. Carmine made its way to Europe in the 16th century. It was so valuable that the Spanish — who had cornered the resource, obviously — kept its source a secret until the 18th century. The most common red was ferrous oxide (rust). Some very rare and expensive colors are now made synthetically. Artists have benefitted through “better living through chemistry,”

The most beautiful blue came from this rock:

Raw Lapis Lazuli
Padua, Baptistry of the Cathedral, Giusto de Menabuoi

Ultramarine blue was so rare and expensive, its production (obviously) not easy, that for a while it was worth more than gold. For a long time, it was used only on Jesus’ robes. It is Ultramarine Blue — “ultra marine” — across the sea. It is made from Lapis Lazuli and came from Afghanistan to Europe on any of the arduous and dangerous trade routes.

A tube of Ultramarine Blue made from Lapis I bought last year before my hip surgery, and my ultramarine blue watercolor pencil

These days, many of the colors we use are synthetically derived — including ultramarine blue. Paints are less poisonous. Artists’ favorite white, lead white, became illegal in the 19th century and now there are a few substitutes. It’s thought Van Gogh went nuts from eating his cadmium yellow paint in fits of sunflower driven ecstasy.

Like any painter — have favorite brands. For watercolor, obviously, I love Caran d’Ache. I usually use pencils, but I also use watercolor crayons and paints from their traditional box, too.

My favorite oil painting brand is Gamblin Oil Paint. They are made in Portland, Oregon, in a small company, Gamblin Artist’s Colors. The founder, Robert Gamblin, is, among other things, an art restorer who builds traditional pigments, which, of course, I love. One of the main aims of the company is the production of safer paints and solvents. The oil colors and various media are beautiful, easy to use and responsive to my way of painting. The solvents are not only less toxic but also less stinky which is good because the place where I paint has no ventilation other than the doorway to the kitchen.

Well, as I said, I could go on and on and on…


I keep my paints in a jewelry box made by my Uncle Hank.

“Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing”

As I was writing my post yesterday about my sweet ski “adventure” I remembered a rune of a Viking on skis with a bow and arrow and I wanted to put it in my post. I googled it and found it, yay! (should I end this here?) I also found a program on PBS that caught my attention, “Multiple Sclerosis, Vikings and Nordic Skiing.” How could ANYONE not be caught by a title like that? For me it was especially provocative. My dad suffered from MS and, beyond that obvious hook, who isn’t fascinated by Vikings and, yeah, Langlauf. ❤


I already knew that MS is more prevalent among people from Northern Europe. It has a much higher incidence in Scandinavia and among those of Scandinavian descent. Science has now tracked it across the North Atlantic, a disease of the central nervous system carried in Viking Ships. My dad’s mother was from Sweden, and Ancestry tells me I am mostly Scots, Irish and Scandinavian, all parts of the world where MS is comparatively common. Yay Vikings!

MS is an autoimmune disease that most often shows up in young adulthood, but people can have it for a long time without knowing it. The film goes into detail about the diagnosis and the science behind the progress of the disease. It can now be accurately diagnosed with an MRI, which didn’t exist when my dad was alive. My dad’s MS was diagnosed with certainty in an autopsy. If you’re interested, you can learn about MS here, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society webpage.

Dad, me, Aunt Martha 1963

The program followed six people in the United States and Norway who’d been diagnosed with MS. One of the points of the program was how exercise can help people with MS. The problem with exercise is that heat — even a rise in body temperature — can be debilitating, causing fatigue and a relapse of symptoms. The obvious sport for a person with MS is the national sport of Norway; Nordic skiing.

In 2012 and 13 (I believe) the American Birkebeiner worked in partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to raise money for MS. Three of the skiers in the program did the American Birkebeiner race. At the same time, three Norwegian women skied the Norwegian Birkebeiner.

Both American Birkebeiner races drew Norwegian Olympic champion skiers to Wisconsin to race and raise funds. One of those champions has a mom who suffers from MS.

As I watched them race, I was lost, thinking, “Birki WHAT?” I had no idea…

It started in 1206. Birkebeiner skiers, so called for their protective birch bark leggings, skied through the treacherous mountains and rugged forests of Norway’s Osterdalen valley during the winter of 1206, smuggling the son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety. The flight taken during the Norwegian Civil War took the Birkebeiners and prince from Lillehammer to safety in the town of Trondheim. Inga of Vartieg never became queen as the prince’s father was killed before he could return for her in Vartieg. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV and forever changed Northern Europes’ history by his reign.

The story and painting of the flight were the inspiration for the first Birkebeinger ski race held in Norway in 1932. To this day, Norwegian skiers still carry a pack, symbolizing the weight of an 18-month child, in the Worldloppet’s Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet race from Rena – Lillehammer. Thousands of skiers commemorate the journey with annual Birkebeiner races in Norway, Canada, and the United States.

The race known today as the American Birkebeiner began in 1973 as the dream of the late Tony Wise. Thirty-four men and one lone woman were on the starting line clad in woolen sweaters and knickers for the 50-kilometer race from the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. Nineteen more women and juniors would ski a shorter race from “OO” to Telemark. Few knew they were going to make history. There were no U.S. Ski Team members or foreign skiers, just a handful of enthusiasts from a couple of midwestern states, out to try something new. Many of the entrants were on cross-country skis for the first season – some for the first time.

Today, over 13,000 skiers of all ages and abilites and 20,000 spectators fromaround the world gather every February in the Cable-Hayward, Wisconsin area to celebrate “The Birkie”, a race which has become a legend in the cross-country ski world. We look forward to you joining us!

The six racers with MS all made it. One of the Norwegian women said she hadn’t expected the race to be fun. “All along the way people cheered me on, gave me coffee, water, food. My time was better than I thought it would be, and I never felt alone. I had so much fun!”

Another Norwegian woman said that the race kept her training every day, even when she didn’t feel like it. When race day came, she was nervous, but ended up having a great time.

A young Wisconsin racer, a former competitive skier who’d been dismayed by her diagnosis (naturally) explained — as the camera followed her awkward little pink tight-clad form around the 25 mile course, “I stopped worrying about my time or competing. I was there to have fun and to make it all the way. It was wonderful. I hope I can keep having fun like this way into my 80s!”

A young man whose main symptom was arm weakness, said, “I felt my arms going about half way so, for a while, I just poled every other stroke.” He stood beaming with the Birkebeiner medal around his neck.

Getting Better at Langlauf

I’ve decided to use the German word for Nordic skiing — Langlauf. It’s easier than writing “Nordic skiing” all the time.

We got about an inch and a half or two inches of sweet wet snow last night and when I took Bear out for her walk, we went to the golf course mostly so I could assess the conditions. After about a half a mile, I knew the conditions were good enough for me.

One benefit of having lived in Southern California for 30 years is that this Colorado woman isn’t a snow elitist. If it’s skiable, I’ll ski it.

It was more than skiable. It was really great. And, my abilities have improved. What took forty minutes the first couple of times took only about 25 today, not that I’m in a hurry, but that indicates I’m getting my “ski legs.”

It’s really wonderful when, for so long, my abilities to do almost anything — even stand around — only deteriorated.

Last night I watched an episode of Nature (on PBS) called “The Wild World of the Vikings.” In it, a Viking skied, OK not a REAL Viking, a re-enacting skiing Viking, but I just thought, “That’s just so cool.” The whole program was fascinating and beautiful, but that was my favorite 30 second (if that) bit. I have always felt on “die Langlaufski” absolutely free, not tied to some chair lift or gondola, no lift ticket to buy, and nothing but the freedom of snow in the mountains. Because I’m getting better at it, I’m hoping that I will get on mountain trails this year. We’ll see.


P.S. Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog has discovered that I enjoy it when she rolls in the snow. Her new thing is to lie on her back in the snow while I scratch her tummy. She’s really not like the other kids.

Side Canals

Venice is a “city for lovers” but I have no idea why except that historically and physically it’s a perfect metaphor for the complicated and inscrutable labyrinth of love. I have been there three times, two of those times in the midst of a romantic conundrum. Venice was, at least, distracting.

It exerts incredible pressure on the lone female tourist with all the honeymoon couples, posing on the Rialto Bridge over the grand canal, asking me to take their photo while they look into the lens with feigned happiness and real perplexity. Venice is the world’s locus for “Just ask for directions, David!” and “No. I know where we are.”

It’s a good place to visit if you’ve always dreamed of medieval Byzantium because it’s there. Venetians stole it in the 12th century and brought it home as best they could, along with the bones of St. Mark.

I love Venice. Away from the main spots — Piazza San Marco, the Rialto — it’s a secretive, mysterious, living city. I do not know how anyone could see everything without living there a while. I also wish I’d known more history, at least when I was there in 2000. In 2004, I enjoyed the luxury of staying on the train as it discharged passengers and loaded passengers who were, like me, going to Trieste.

There are so many films set in Venice, but my favorite, the one that captures it best, is Bread and Tulips or Pane e Tulipani.


A Story…

I awaken bewildered in this silent compartment. The train has stopped. The calm young lovers speaking in soft tones are gone. I look at the station. Pesceria di Garda. Lago di Garda. It’s not the first time I pass over something without seeing. In the town of Limone, on this same lake, Goethe first saw lemon trees. My sleepy musing comes from the thought of how exotic had been a lemon to Goethe, a symbol of a place so distant and magical, it became the object of all his dreaming. The locomotive shudders to a start. My head against the padded back of the high seat and my face to the window, I quickly return to sleep in this cradle of a train, relentlessly forward, ever side to side.  

Mi scusi, signora, il biglietto per favore.

Who is he talking to? My thoughts are far away and I am with them. Tomorrow is my last day in Italy. I am already in tomorrow or nowhere or in a dream. In regrets? 

Signora?” A gentle tap on my shoulder.

Mi dispiace.”

I hand him my ticket. He validates it with his paper punch and continues moving through the train. There are only two other passengers in my car. Could there be very many more on this whole train? It’s after ten p.m.

He returns, “Are you American?”
“Yes,” I answer, looking up.
“May I sit with you?”
Parla italiano un po, si?”
Si, ma non bene. Solo un po.”
Va bene. Anche io. Parlo un po di Inglesa. Forse possiamo communicare?”
Spero che si!” I laugh. “Ma, per communicare, la lingua non e il unico problema.” I grin at him.

He has sincere blue eyes, pale skin, a receding hairline. He loves to travel; he likes his job because he sometimes meets interesting people, “Like you,” he says, gently flirting. He speaks of Venice, how he likes it better in the winter when the tourists are gone, and the streets are filled with fog.

“Venice like that,” he says, “you can believe you are in the past.”
“All Europe is like that for me,” I tell him, “maybe for all Americans. European streets are stories; they are dreams.” 
“For you?”
“For me, certainly, for me.”
“Do you like Italy?”
“I love Italy.”
“Why? What do you love about Italy?” He settles back, his arms folded across his chest, a warm glint in his eye. “I uomini,” I should say, “The men,” I don’t think to say it. Flirtation is far from my thoughts; he has asked the question I was working out in my sleep. I am leaving Italy and, with all my heart, and longing, I love what I am leaving.
“I have to think.”
“If you have to think, you don’t like anything.”
“No. It’s a language problem. I don’t know how to say it.”
“Say it in English, then.”
“No, just wait. I can do this, I can tell you in Italian.”

I don’t like to cross over into the confusing twilight of English that doesn’t belong here. I love my language, sure, but Italian streets–and certainly this day — do not reflect the crushed, rebuilt, borrowed sounds of English, the sliding of syllables into silence. Even constrained by my limited vocabulary and primitive grammar, I have been more in Italy by speaking Italian. Of this day in particular I want every small moment that remains of Venice, my nostalgic espresso in honor of a beloved, now dead, friend, Pietro, beneath the Lion at Piazza San Marco, the changing evocative light above canals, the tourists like strings of bright Venetian beads dragged by destinations across the Rialto Bridge. The only English I’ve heard or spoken all day was but an echo of Goethe; “Please, can you take our photo?” “With pleasure,” I answered, and photographed a honeymooning German couple. Still, I don’t know how I will be able to answer this man’s question or frame my rather complex notion in my Italian baby talk. 

He waits, nervous.

“Ah,” I say, “Posso. Mi piace che in italia la vita classica vive insieme della energia moderna.”
He stares, surprised, then, “Bello. Profondo.
“What do you do? You are not an ordinary person.”
“Sure. I’m ordinary.”
“No. Ordinary people do not say things like ‘The classical life lives together with the modern energy’. That is extraordinary. What do you do?”
I think, only a moment, “I am a writer.”
“What do you write? Romances, stories about love?”
“No, no, that doesn’t interest me.”
“Oh, no. Historical fiction.”
“Ah, that’s why you would be aware of that, the classical life, you would look for it here.”
“I guess so.”
“Are you stopping in Milano?”
“Yes. I’m staying with some friends.”
“How long will you be in Milano?”
“Only one day more. I go back day after tomorrow.”
He looks at me intently. “A pity.”
“I think so, too.”

We look away from each other. He looks out the window across the aisle, I through the window next to me. The train keeps its steady movement. I feel his eyes, and see them reflected in the dark window. I turn.

“You can write about this. You can write about this train ride.”

I look at him for a moment. I see my whole story in this compartment on this train. Though I am going home, I should not go home; I realize in the next moment that I never really will.

“I will. I will write this story.”

The featured photo is one I took in 2000 as I wandered the backstreets of Venice, looking for a real story, distancing myself from my bewildered heart. 

Don’t Look!

I’m one of those people how has “problems with intimacy.” I wasn’t always like that, but life has taught me that the even the lowly pillbug has a few good ideas.

When I had my hip replacement, that whole pillbug notion had to go by the wayside. I had to surrender to heavy drugs, accept that some guy was going to slice open my naked body, shove a little saw inside, and cut off my bone. That was bad, but at least I was unconscious. Afterward, nurses would have to help me use the toilet and various other intimate tasks. I am sure my resistance to intimacy helped me recover faster.

Afterward, someone had to take care of me, at home. When my friend Lois offered, I accepted. I knew she could handle it with finesse and she did. I don’t think it was too gruesome. There was the oxygen problem, and once a bandage had to be changed, but there was no real gore.

The OTHER kind of intimacy, really KNOWING someone, yeah. As a young person I was very interested in long revelatory conversations as parts of friendship. Now I think that friendships evolve in time, through contact, actions that reveal a person’s heart far more than does a late night confidence.

Magical Valentine Across Time

I spent six of my formative years — probably the six most formative years — in a small town in Nebraska. I loved it there. It was a Norman Rockwell world with ice cream socials held after Little League games at one church or another, a world where kids were free to go everywhere by bike, where the public swimming pool was surrounded by woods, and winter ice-skating was on a pond in the middle of a forest.

It really was like that. This isn’t just nostalgia. I was a happy kid.

Besides the town and the life it provided my brother and me as kids, I liked all the opportunities my mom and dad put in front of me. Life was great. I didn’t know then that the preparation for life I got was, a lot of it, going to fall by the way in the social tumult of the sixties and seventies, family tragedies, marriage, divorce, grad school, all of it.


Most of my education was in public school. Then, because my parents hoped that the rigor of a private school would help my incorrigible little brother who refused to learn anything in public school, I went to Brownell/Talbot, an Episcopalian school in Omaha, for sixth and seventh grade. It was a combination of girls’ finishing school and college prep school. My brother was “uninvited” after the first year, but I flourished and found my first ever real friend. It was two very happy school years for me.

I was also a Rainbow Girl. Rainbow is, “A Masonic fraternal order for girls of teen age.” We wore formals to our meetings. We had “dinners” for our parents and for visiting Rainbow Girl Lodges and visiting officers — local, state and national. They were always beautiful events with centerpieces, table favors and name cards, all handmade by us girls. We were taught that this kind of extra-effort showed others that they mattered to us.

The girl I was from 12 to 14 imagined that all these thoughtful, petty things would be part of my adult life mixed in with world travel, art, adventure and athletics. I guess I imagined 45 hour days and did not fully understand the freedom of childhood. 🙂

By the time I was fifteen, that world had vanished not only from my actual existence (we moved away from the little Nebraska town to the vastly more sophisticated Colorado Springs), but almost from my memory. By then, fate was taking my family to some dark places.


My friend Elizabeth invited me to join her and her husband for a Valentine dinner at the local Methodist church this past Saturday. I was nervous because it would mean meeting new people, but I trust my friend and she said it would be fun. When I asked if I could wear jeans, Elizabeth said, “It is kind of fancy.”

I wore my “best” clothes which are velvety, brown cords, a black cashmere sweater and a gold necklace. I haven’t had REAL fancy clothes in a looonnnnggg time. Besides, I couldn’t imagine the dinner being very fancy. This is Colorado, after all…

Monte Vista United Methodist Church
Erected in 1922 in the Prairie architectural style it features fifty-four original geometric stained glass windows and a fifty-seven pipe Estey organ.

The Methodist church is a splendid arts and crafts building. I’ve wanted to see it for a while. Luckily, we arrived when there was still enough day to light the amazing stained glass windows.

Half of this massive cube of a building — built of glazed bricks — is the sanctuary. The other half is a meeting hall where the dinner was held.

Candles and fairy lights, a dozen beautifully set tables, red tablecloths with white lace over them. Centerpieces, handmade table favors; our red, cloth napkins, rolled to look like roses, sat in our coffee cups. Silver. The hosts — people from the Methodist church — wore tuxes and formals as they served us dinner.

We found seats at a table with the minister of the Disciples of Christ church and his wife. The minister stood by his seat until we three ladies were seated. I have not seen that kind of chivalric behavior since I was a girl, but I saw it many times that night.

Dinner was lasagna, salad, and cherry cheese cake. We were served red or white sparkling grape juice (these are Methodists, after all) by the minister of the church who wore a tuxedo and a red bowtie. From time to time, an elegantly dressed Methodist would come and check that everything was fine at our table.

That dinner was a REAL Valentine. Not only was I with some of my favorite people here in Colorado, but I was in a beautiful place surrounded by living relics of a lovely, gentle life I thought had vanished. The sweetness of it sank deeply into my heart, and I thought, “It’s been here all along.”

Handmade Valentine Quilted Wall Hanging (Photo by Elizabeth Shank)


When I got my skis, I was introduced to 30 years of innovations in the classic sport of Nordic skiing. True, the sport has always been perfect, but people are always fussing.

Nordic skiing is — besides fun — transportation up in the “frozen wastes” where some of my ancestors came from. Originally, the skis were very long, made of wood and steered along with a pole used something like a paddle on a boat. I can imagine how that worked. The pole would have ensured that they never got stuck in deep drifts besides helping with overall propulsion. Their feet were fixed to their skis with leather straps, then, with advancing technology, with “bear trap” bindings.

Skiing is an ancient “sport.”

Rock paintings and skis preserved in bogs show that hunters and trappers used skis at least 5000 years ago, but skis are even older than that: As glaciers retreated, stone age hunters followed reindeer and elk herds from central Asia’s Altai region, moving to the northwest and northeast, using skis covered with fur that worked like modern climbing skins. Skis came to be used across the Eurasian arctic regions.

Skis were in regular use by Scandinavian farmers, hunters and warriors throughout the Middle Ages. By the 18th century, units of the Swedish Army trained and competed on skis

You can imagine Vikings on skis. ❤

I always loved that Nordic skiing has a legit reason for existing. As much fun as downhill skiing is (was?) it’s just a spin-off from what must have been the REALLY FUN moments of going to a friend’s house in Norway in the olden days.

Photos of Colorado skiers in the 40’s show the same gear. I saw many of these skis in the mountain cabins of friends when I was growing up. Long wooden skis, bear-trap bindings, a steering pole or old bamboo ski poles with large snow baskets.

Back in the day, these old Nordic skis had to be carefully waterproofed when they were put away in the spring. In use, they had to be waxed during use for grip and slip. It was an art (and a lot of work) In 1970, a ski design innovator came up with the idea of “fish scales” on the bottom of Nordic Skis ending the grueling (ha ha) “art” of waxing skis to go up hills then scraping off that wax and replacing it with OTHER wax to go downhill.

For climbing steep hills and mountains in the VERY olden days, skiers attached strips of seal skin to the bottoms of their skis to grip on the uphill. Today there are innovations in ski-skins, using mohair, goat-hair or nylon for climbing.

Historically, Nordic skis have also been very long — in my case they would be 80 inches or 200 cm. My new skis are 170 cm, roughly 15 inches shorter.

The long, steering pole is long gone, replaced a while back by ski poles.

My new Nordic skis are wood with metal edges and fish scale bottoms. Some users have complained that they don’t have great “grip” and that might be true, but as I’m on the heavy side for the length of my skis, meaning I can probably succeed in getting the ‘gripper’ down to the snow, and I’m happy to herringbone up a hill (if there’s room) if I have to, I don’t really care. The boots are warm and comfortable; the bindings — NNN bindings — are better than the old three pin bindings for moving a skier forward. Three pin bindings replaced the “bear trap” bindings but real back-country skiers still use something like that to make sure they and their skis are more intimately attached. Losing a ski in the wilderness would be almost as bad as it gets.

The old skis I rescued from the flea market last year, the ones that are like the ones I once had, have old-school three-pin, backcountry bindings.

But it isn’t just skis. When my brother and I were kids and lived near a forest in Nebraska, we took our sleds to the woods. There were lots of great hills in our town (it was beside the Missouri River) and great winding trails down the hills. The best trail went all the way through the forest, then ended in a chain of backyards which was a veritable rollercoaster of steep, wide hills. It was probably insane as we didn’t wear helmets or mouth guards, but we had a blast. Disneyland is an inferior imitation. Sleds as we knew them were also the fun part of someone’s old school transportation system.

Flexible Flyer ❤

Yesterday I took Dusty and Bear out to the golf course for a walk. The snow on the tracks is seriously packed, but I bent down and touched the surface. There was a good inch of softer, looser “snow” (as old as it is, it hasn’t really been snow for a long time and if I were an Eskimo I could tell you what it is). I decided that if the temps this afternoon are anything like yesterday, I’ll give it a shot. All I can do is fall or have a really bad time.

Spring? Just Say NO!!!

Dear Normal People:

Spring is several weeks away. 28 days + 7 or so. Back off. Anyway, what’s so great about it?

Spring is a silly season, ambivalent and immature. It’s childish and makes horrible mistakes. A couple of years ago Spring, in a fit of pique, threw us a hard freeze toward the end of itself, and we had NO apples in the San Luis Valley. Spring is sinister like that. In pictures it looks all pretty like a girl in a prom dress, but seriously? It’s war. 60-70 mph winds, mud, ticks, sandstorms (gravel storms, actually). Nasty. Sure, winter has its problems — ice, cold, but it’s not going to pull the rug out from under your hopes — well, a little bit — but not like spring.

That whore.

And then what? SUMMER! Horror. Lawn mowing, mosquitos, endlessly tending the damned garden, afternoon hail storms, and those long, long hot days when you can’t walk your dogs until 7 pm and people are using the golf course for — golf. No thanks. It’s dark times from March 21 until October with its chill nights, swirling leaves and the promise of winter.

I just grit my teeth and try to get through Spring and Summer. I’m in no hurry.

Yesterday I was driven to write poetry in response to blog posts about longing for spring. Here they are…

Stay away spring
with your oozing, sticky mud
your wind and dust storms
your promises and betrayals
apple blossoms blown from trees.

Stay away spring
A little more snow
more trails and skiing
Places for my dog to bound
through deep soft drifts
before the fecund nightmare
starts again.


Everyone yearns for spring.
I wish winter stayed longer
Deep drifts and ski tracks.

I woke up this morning thinking I’d done the right thing going into debt temporarily to buy my skis because it MIGHT be that won’t happen again on the golf course and I hesitate to go up to the mountains alone, especially with a non-4WD car. Then I thought, “How stupid. No one had 4WD cars back in the day but we all went to the mountains. What fearful wusses we have become. And with cell phones!!!”

BUT… I am not in the spring or summer or even autumn (well, maybe I’m in November or something, late autumn) of my life anymore. That’s a non-negotiable, material difference. Back in the summer of my life, I did strap my skis to the top of my VW Bug and head to the untrammeled wilds alone. I didn’t consider the dangers back then, only the thrill of skiing up (then down) favorite hiking trails.

Next year I will attend the early season socials of the San Juan Nordic Club, the heroes who groom the trails around here. I’ll stifle my shyness and bring my potluck dish. Who knows? I might meet a similar soul who needs a pal for the back country.

Your pals,

Martha and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog